Virus has prompted a boom in ‘digital exercise’

Despite the lockdown, many of us are still exercising to keep mind and body healthy. PATSY RYAN, General Manager of the Mardyke Arena, tells Colette Sheridan about the challenges he faces, and the Arena’s link-up with The Echo
Virus has prompted a boom in ‘digital exercise’
People are exercising at home during lockdown to keep their mind and bodies healthy.

JUST because the gyms are closed due to the coronavirus, doesn’t mean that you can justify becoming a couch potato.

Virtual exercise classes are the new trend that you can avail of from the comfort of your home. The Mardyke Arena, UCC, has teamed up with The Echo for its series, ‘Keeping Cork Healthy’, in print every Saturday and also online at, where home workout videos can be followed.

For Patsy Ryan, the general manager of the Mardyke Arena, the partnership with The Echo makes sense in our locked-down world. And he is thinking in terms of how the business will change once amenities reopen.

The Mardyke Arena employed 90 people every week.

“We’ve had to lay off two thirds of them. We will revise things on the staffing front towards the end of May,” says Patsy.

The pandemic has had “a huge impact” on the gym. 

“We have a very large membership base, around 3,500 members as well as the 14,000 students who use our facilities throughout the year. There are obviously financial complications.

“We project that between now and June 30, we’ll have an income loss of €1.5million. As we learned back in 2009 when we were closed for three months because of the flooding, a lot of people don’t return. People will change gym.

“Also, there’s the time of the year to take into account. If we open in June or July, the best part of the year is over and people tend to stay outdoors in the summer rather than in gyms. I think we’ll have to rethink the whole business.”

Patsy feels that social distancing will continue, well into the spring of next year.

Many people are exercising at home now - using online classes and workouts, like The Echo's 'Keeping Cork Healthy' series.
Many people are exercising at home now - using online classes and workouts, like The Echo's 'Keeping Cork Healthy' series.

“If social distancing lasts, it will have major implications for the gym business. We put through a huge volume of people at the Mardyke Arena with about 650,000 visits a year. We have a huge amount of space allocated for gym equipment.

“I suppose we’re no different than any of the other big operators in that we use every square metre that we can. Now we’re looking at two metre spaces between people. So we’re looking at options to see if we can space out the gym more.

“We have some options available to us but there are cost implications. We have to see if we can afford to do social distancing — or if we can afford not to do it. Our funding is what we generate through our business, through student and public membership.”

Looking at the upside of the lockdown, Patsy says there is “a lot more physical activity taking place in this country at the moment than normal”.

He adds: “Young kids are out walking with their parents. The general public are walking, which is very positive. And there has been a huge boom in digital fitness classes.

“I’m not sure how much of that will be sustained. Some people will try to maintain it in the short term but we are social beings. We like the interaction with other people and we use it to motivate ourselves.”

Patsy says the biggest challenge for all of us at the moment is social isolation. “There are some good articles in The Echo on mental health and keeping ourselves sound,” he says, “It’s interesting to read articles with advice from sports people. Instead of thinking collectively with their fellow players, they are suddenly working on their own.”

PLANNING AHEAD: Patsy Ryan says there will be fresh challenges when the lockdown is lifted
PLANNING AHEAD: Patsy Ryan says there will be fresh challenges when the lockdown is lifted

Aged 66, Patsy, originally from Co Offaly, says he has friends over the age of 70 who are cocooning. “They ring me and they’ve been finding it very hard. It’s important to keep in contact with them.”

Having undergone back surgery for spinal fusion in the hot summer of 2018, Patsy says he can empathise with the cocooners, confined to their homes. 

“I wasn’t allowed sit for four months. I spent that time walking up and down the backyard in Farran where we live. The yard is probably 30 metres. I was doing up to 10,00 steps a day there but it was like working in a cage. But it kept me sane.”

Patsy and his Dublin-born wife, Helen, have three adult children. He started his working life as a secondary school teacher of physical education in Kildare. After 13 years, he gave up teaching in 1990 as he felt he needed a new challenge.

He did a postgraduate degree in business management and got into the leisure industry.

“Since 1990 to date, I have been general manager of a number of leisure facilities including in Dublin. The big move came in 1997 when I had my own company and got the contract to set up Leisure World in Bishopstown. I came to Cork for what was to be six months and I never really left. I spent five and a half years there and I joined the Mardyke Arena in 2001.

“I enjoy the challenge of managing these centres. I enjoyed teaching too but at the end, I got tired of it.”

Patsy has played hurling and football and also played rugby at Thomond College. He is very proud of the services the Mardyke Arena offers.

“The diverse nature of what we offer is unique in Ireland. We have programmes for pre-school children up to people in their eighties. We have an ‘Energise Your Life’ programme which has been running for about 18 years. It’s for older adults. We have up to 100 people doing it over four mornings a week. They are mainly ladies.”

The ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality is not a philosophy Patsy subscribes to. “I think a little bit of exercise goes a long way once you’re doing it regularly. Sometimes, regular walking is as good as anything.”

Don’t miss the next installment of our ‘Keeping Cork Healthy’ page in The Echo on Saturday (April 25). 

To catch up on previous features and see all the exercise videos see the 'Keeping Cork Healthy' link below.

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